Years ago, my turkey preparation regimen was well-defined and carefully executed, with one glaring error – I started way too soon. That may seem a conflicting lead-in given that this is an article aimed at properly prepping you for the upcoming season, but my issue was that it drove me crazy. I’d get to the point where I was more than ready to hunt birds, but there were piles of snow on the ground and it would be months before any seasons opened. Still, those years of overzealous rituals and long nights waiting did a good job of laying the groundwork for successful seasons. So much so, that I’ve been able to condense that prep-work into a few short steps.
Here’s what I’ve learned…
Asking permission early is far easier than doing it later when warm-weather activities make you more of a pest than a partner. 90% or more of the upper Midwest turkey hunting is done on private land, so getting good at this aspect of your game is a very important part of your hunt. Birds continually migrate throughout different parts of ridges and valleys, and also move through stages of the breeding cycle with regional irregularity. Having 2 or more parcels with good bird activity ensures that if property “A” birds are in a funk and henned-up, the Property “B” birds may be willing to play.
Now is the time to figure out if you need new gloves, not when you have to head-out bare-handed opening morning. Gear junkies love heading into the woods with weighed down turkey vests, but focus first on fixing, replacing parts, or simply testing the critical gear, and then focus on getting a goodie or two that may increase your chances of success. This part is the fun part, but beware the tendency to over-do it. All the knick-knacks in the world won’t help if you can’t quietly slip down a logging road, cross a barbed-wire fence, or belly crawl under some pines. Focus on a lightweight addition or two that stows nicely and try on your gear.
A good deal is written on calls and calling, but the most important part of it is first and foremost actually practicing, but a close second is claimed by practicing like you play. It matters not if you can yelp like a live hen after you get warmed up for 15 minutes. Progress your practice by starting small and just working on a few vocalizations, but eventually get to the point where you can pick up a call, and make concise noises, at the cadence of your choice, with few to no screw-ups. After all, that’s what you need to do in the woods.
Drive backroads now and find the segregated gobbler groups, knowing that they will use natural cover and other landscape corridors to disperse. Birds will become increasingly more active as days warm and the sun-angle increases melting on certain slopes. Look for birds here that are picking at soybean stubble, corn stalks, and other grain waste.
Sometimes, some Google Earth scouting, combined with simple gravel-travel in the area you hunt can give you clues and cues to some new and overlooked possibilities either for more ground, or different ways to hunt the ground you already have. Recently, for Minnesota I’ve been using LiDAR elevation data, which offers a hyper-accurate accounting of the land’s surface here – http://arcgis.dnr.state.mn.us/maps/mntopo/
This continues to be one of the most overlooked parts of our turkey hunting experience. Good, consistent patterns lead to more confident shots, and effective kills. The only way to know how your gun performs is to shoot it at 40 yards, and count pellets in a 10” circle. Somewhere in that 100 pellet range, provided there are no gaps and holes in your coverage, is where you want to be to cleanly kill at that same distance. If you don’t have anything close to that, limit the ranges you shoot at birds to under that mark. This year I’ll be trying the new TSS loads in my constant quest to put as many pellets in that kill zone as possible. I’m a big fan of smaller shot sizes in general, provided they’ve got the down-range energy to perform. Lastly, don’t ignore your sights either, as most shooters tend to shoot over the top of a turkey in an actual hunting situation when using just a plain bead.
Writing, studying, and ultimately re-living your turkey hunting experiences is not only fun, it’s incredibly effective at helping you to hit the ground running. I start each season relatively green, forgetting the swing of things until I’m a few days in. My journals offer keys to forgotten bits of my brain that inform current plans based on the experiences I’ve amassed. Every turkey is different, but just like poker, you want to play the odds and make the move that gives you the best percentage of success each time you do it. Few hunts are as decision-dependent as a turkey hunt, and using a journal as a playbook to storyboard each decision in the turkey woods, ensures that more often than not you’ll be in the right mindset to exploit behaviors of the past that play out in the future.